My post on Wednesday about the reported claim that China was now #2 in nanotechnology in the world, as measured by output of nanoscience publications, brought a detailed and useful response by email from Matthew Nordan from Lux Research. He pointed out that the study that the Small Times report was based on aggregated a total of 17 metrics, of which the publications count I was referring to was only one. Taking the overall picture, China was still weak both in nanotechnology activity and in its capacity to use nanotechnology to drive economic growth. The only two measures on which it is currently strong is in the publications count that I was discussing, whose shortcomings Matthew acknowledges, and in total spending. There are some pertinent comments about the difficulty of ranking expenditure measures over on TNTlog. Nonethless, China’s capability is growing fast.
The way this story has been reported is an interesting case study in how commentators look for the story they want to see. “China rising” is a powerful narrative at the moment, and any evidence that can be beaten into a form that supports this narrative will be newsworthy. The four page summary of the complete report, which Matthew Nordan kindly forwarded to me, divides nations into Dominant (USA, Japan, Germany and South Korea) – strong both in basic research and commercialisation, Ivory Tower (UK and France), strong in basic research but weaker in commercialisation, Niche Players (Israel, Singapore and Taiwan), weaker in basic research but strong in commercialisation of selected regions. China falls into the Minor League category, weak on both measures, and so not even in the top nine of nanotech powers. The report does suggest that China is moving strongly forward but there is no suggestion that it will overtake the current leaders. Nonetheless, it’s the China story that Lux’s public relations people chose to highlight, heading their press release “CHINA: MOVING FROM LAGGARD TO POWER PLAYER IN NANOTECHNOLOGY” (PDF). The story was obligingly picked up by Small Times, who headlined their story “CHINA MOVING UP IN NANO WORLD” and picked out the two measures on which China took second place (publications and government spend at purchasing power parity). This allowed Nanodot to headline its story “Claim: China is now #2 in nanotech”, which, as we now see, wasn’t the claim at all.